Kasen Williams and The Gray Area Between Attacking and Protecting The Target


Photo by James Santelli.

Photo by James Santelli.

Do you look at your past evaluations and apply what you’ve learned to your present work?  The response might not be what you think. Washington receiver Kasen Williams’ game offers me a way to explain. 

I’m often asked how I evaluate my work. Usually, the question is attached with an assumption of how I evaluate it:

  • Do you compare where the player is drafted to see if you were right? 
  • Do you go back to your evaluations and compare what you wrote with what you see in the NFL? 
  • Do you [insert here some explanation referring to a hypothetical calculation or algorithm they presume you’ve developed to figure out exact what level of accuracy you have with your rankings and/or analysis versus the rest of the industry despite the fact that every draft analyst, media scout, and draftnik has a different methodology for evaluating players — if they really have one at all]? 

I do evaluate my work, but it’s not like you think. I definitely don’t use the draft as an evaluation tool of my work. I realize that some have tried to use stats to explain that the draft is a somewhat reliable tool to show talent — the general “the draft basically gets it right” argument.

Most draft eligible quarterbacks basically know the difference between man and zone when they look at a secondary, but the ramifications of them playing with only this basically getting it right argument can have dire consequences on the field. Let’s shoot for a higher standard.

The draft is about talent and team fit  and blending the two factors when they should not be combined does not yield quality analysis when thinking “the draft is a good indicator of talent.”

Jason Peter, Joique Bell, Rod Smith, Antonio Gates, Tony Romo, Kurt Warner, and Priest Holmes were among several players that were undrafted. While some proponents of the “draft order is a good cross-check for talent” will argue that these players are massive exceptions to the rule, I don’t think they are truly accounting for the weight of the word “exception,” much less the phrase “massive exception.”

How does one take the draft as a serious indication of talent ranking when Peters, a UDFA in 2004 has outplayed every tackle prospect in that draft class? The Eagles’ stalwart possesses all of the Pro Bowl appearances (6) for his draft class at the position.

The draft apologists may say it’s just one player or one position, but doesn’t a six-time all-star who is still going strong in his 11th season have more impact on an organization — or several organizations when determining the value of a hit or miss?

Peters’ value should include the number tackles taken by teams that had the opportunity and need to select him, but didn’t.  It should factor the number of quarterbacks that got injured because an inadequate tackle failed to protect the blind side.  Throwing in the tackles drafted (and failed) in subsequent years after those teams didn’t take Peters should also be included.

What about the coaches that got fired because the offensive line had a massive weakness that hurt production and cost these organizations wins? And how about the amount of money spent that could have been allocated to a player or players it couldn’t re-sign or acquire through free agency because of the direct and indirect costs associated with by-passing Peters?

It’s a truer weight than tallying 1 guy.

My evaluation of my process isn’t focused on who I got right and who I got wrong. I understand why that’s what most people think is the way to do it, but that’s surface-level analysis when it should be one of the benefits of embedding evaluation of the process rather than the product.

Because I take pains to define a great deal of football technique and athletic behavior on my evaluation checklists, I don’t have to spend as much time keeping track of what I know. Instead, I can write down everything I see.

Confusing? If you’re trying to keep mental track of everything you know and watch it’s easy to miss the gray areas that are worth exploring. This ambiguities are the best part of player evaluation. When I observe hard-to-define behaviors from a player, projecting his future often proves difficult, but it one tough evaluation can yield several easier evaluations in future seasons.

Darren McFadden was one of those players. His tendency to “bend” runs rather than make hard cuts was a difficult thing for me to resolve. I wondered if McFadden could thrive in the NFL without the ability to make hard cuts.

Although McFadden has his issues — and I pegged his limitations with vision and pad level — bending runs was not a hindrance to his game. Learning this has helped me gain valuable information for future running back evaluations.

Washington wide receiver Kasen Williams might be one of these players for me this year.  Like McFadden, Williams’ game has components that — specifically, how he uses his arms and body to attack the football with a defender in tight coverage —  fall into the gray area of my evaluation process.

Depending on if, when, and how often Williams exhibits these behaviors, the receiver may have to make some difficult adjustments to his game to make it in the NFL.

Shielding The Defender or Not Attacking The Ball?

One of the things I enjoy most about Williams is his willingness to engage in physical play against a defensive back. Unless a player has rare speed, it’s an important facet of receiver play in the NFL. This 2nd and 10 route along the right sideline that yields more than 40 yards is a fine play, but it also raises some questions.

Williams’ position far from the sideline and his spin to shield the coverage are strong components of this play. So is the way the receiver set up the route with a stutter-step to set up a potential break at 10 yards past the line of scrimmage before using his arm to check the defender and accelerate past, earning a step on his opponent.

I also like the power in his hands, arms, and legs to maintain possession as a runner while the defender is trying to rip the ball loose. I’m a fan of ball carriers who run with high knees and dig for extra yards as well.

Strength and athleticism aside, I value Williams’ savvy on the play. My favorite part is the “late hands” to disguise his play on the ball until the last moment so he doesn’t tip-off the defender. The leap and spin also complements his late-play on the ball.

When the ball arrives Williams doesn’t extend his arms to the ball despite using his hands to make the reception. His arms are partially extended but not far enough to attack the ball if the defender is close enough to make a play on it, too. This play works, but if I was projecting this play to an NFL situation with a better cornerback who has stronger position and athleticism to reach for the ball I’m not positive that Williams’ technique would yield a reception.

It leads to wonder if Williams did what was just enough for this play or if he has to refine his techniques in close quarters.

It’s important to understand that every catch doesn’t require a full extension of the arms go show good technique for a play. There are numerous types of targets where full extension of the arms is one of the best ways to secure the reception, but there are exceptions. Williams’ catch on his back shoulder fade near the sideline is a good example where the arms shouldn’t be locked out. Watch the real-time and replay:

Williams doesn’t have to fully extend his arms to reach the ball and if he did, he wouldn’t have the position to brace himself for the fall. Keeping the elbows somewhat bent should allow him to retract the ball to his body and absorb the shock of hitting the ground that can disrupt his ball security.

Still, there is a play in this game where Williams fully extends for the ball, but his timing and desire to get physical with the defender overrides what might have been the best strategic approach. This is  1st and 10 reception with an inside-out set to set up a fade route with a nod to the post or dig.

I like the head fake outside the set up the dip inside that then sets up the fade outside. This is some good storytelling and the fact that Williams reserves this route for late in the game demonstrates some maturity and strategic thinking that shows he can play the game within the game against his opponents.

The actual catch with the defender draped over his back is terrific — as is the awareness to get his elbow in bounds. However, the gray area on this play is whether Williams needed to lean into the defender and post up as he did. While it helped Williams establish position on the man and use his body to his advantage as both a shield and a weapon, it also forced the receiver off-balance and make the act of staying in bounds more difficult.

Moreover, the lean into the defender make Williams late on attacking the ball, which could have given the defender a better opportunity to make a play on the target and knock the ball loose. If Williams attacked the ball, he might not have had to make as difficult of a catch after contact or generate a play that was very close to being an incomplete pass at the boundary at a key point in the game.

These plays may seem exceptional in the college game, but they are more often routine in the NFL. Williams might show that he can extend his arms to catch a pass, but when and how he chooses might be an indication that his game needs work. It might also be a tough habit to break. I have more to watch before I decide what I think, but it’s worth highlighting.

For analysis of skill players in this year’s draft class, download the 2014 Rookie Scouting Portfolio – available now. Better yet, if you’re a fantasy owner the 56-page Post-Draft Add-on comes with the 2012 – 2014 RSPs at no additional charge. Best, yet, 10 percent of every sale is donated to Darkness to Light to combat sexual abuse. You can purchase past editions of the Rookie Scouting Portfolio for just $9.95 apiece.

 The 2015 RSP will be available for pre-order in January.

Categories: 2015 NFL Draft, Analysis, Players, Wide ReceiverTags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

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